The Honorable Senator's buddies
Surprising insights from the social sciences
These days, party affiliation seems to be the best predictor of whether a politician supports or opposes a particular policy. However, special interests still manage to drive a lot of votes, and one special interest — the politician’s own social network — has a measurable effect. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that members of Congress are significantly influenced by colleagues who happen to be alumni from the same school, especially if a vote is close and less important to home-state business interests. For votes that are important to home-state business interests, having more executives who went to the same school as the politician makes it more likely that the politician will vote in their favor. The importance of social networks even plays out on the Senate floor: How a senator votes is influenced by those senators who are seated nearby, above and beyond the influence of party and state.
Cohen, L. & Malloy, C., “Friends in High Places,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2010).
Brescoll, V. et al., “Hard Won and Easily Lost: The Fragile Status of Leaders in Gender-Stereotype-Incongruent Occupations,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).
Nordgren, L. & McDonnell, M.-H., “The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm Is Judged to Be Less Harmful,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).
Rule, N. & Ambady, N., “Judgments of Power from College Yearbook Photos and Later Career Success,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming). Boys, girls, and competition
Males are seen as more competitive, especially in areas like sports, business, and technology, and this competitive attitude is often credited for their relative success. But does this supposed competitive advantage actually exist? Several economists ran an experiment with elementary school students to find the answer. Each student was matched against another student to see who would get the most questions right on a timed math quiz. Students were re-matched and re-quizzed several times in the course of an hour. Boys did significantly better on the first quiz, but then their competitive advantage petered out. They did no better than the girls on subsequent quizzes. In fact, boys’ superior performance on the first quiz couldn’t even be reproduced in another trial two weeks later. So while the boys seemed to experience an initial jolt of competitive juices, the spur of competition doesn’t appear to be a durable explanation for the gender gap. Still, as the authors note, if boys seek out competitive situations more than girls do — even if boys aren’t inherently better competitors — that may be enough to give them an edge.
Cotton, C. et al., “The Gender Gap Cracks Under Pressure: A Detailed Look at Male and Female Performance Differences during Competitions,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2010).
Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.